Spring Training baseball — New York Mets
For the die hard baseball fan, there is nothing better.
The alarm sings a joyful wake-up tune at exactly 5:25 a.m. each morning. My wife nudges me and I roll off the bed with nothing but grace. I grab the clothes that were laid out the night before, get dressed in the pitch blackness, brush my teeth using only the light that strategically emanates under the closed bathroom door and then carefully wander over to my son who is sprawled out on a roll-away bed in the hotel room’s kitchenette. I lovingly flick his ear to let him know we have exactly seven minutes before we need to leave.
We’re in the hotel lobby no later than 5:38 a.m. We meet up with another traveling companion in front of the fireplace and head out to the rented mini-van. The humidity and warmth that greet us as we exit the sliding doors of the hotel are a good morning hug. We jump into our vehicle and head to our first stop, Dunkin Donuts. I drive with the window rolled down because the Florida morning fog requires it. We gather our usual order and complete the three-minute drive to First Data Field, the host of Spring Training for the New York Mets.
If I had to guess, all of the returning Mets players know us by now. And those that are new to Mets camp will know us by the end of the first morning. We’re almost always the first to show up outside the gates of where the players park. Hell, one of our own was even interviewed by the local CBS affiliate.
We’re there every morning that first week of practice. We’re outfitted in Mets gear head to toe and we’re there to wish the players a good morning. Yes, we’re seeking an autograph or maybe a selfie but more than anything else, we’re soaking in the happiness that baseball is back. We’re living vicariously through the players and their choice of profession. We’re happy to be back in the New York Mets bubble.
The mornings are for the hardcore fans. We’ve met dozens of our brethren over the years and like us, they return year after year. We’ve developed year round friendships. These are not obnoxious autograph seekers looking to flip an autograph for cash and they’re not creepy stalkers. None of us would sell a thing we’ve had signed. We love the backstory to our pics and autographs. We share our war stories with each other and repeat them to friends and family when we return home. We love us some Metropolitans.
We remember that time the Big Sexy, Bartolo Colon, randomly wandered over to the Media Gate at 6:00 a.m. one morning and happily signed a baseball for five of us without saying a word.
We remember Yoenis Cespedes stealthily slipping through the security gate to sign and take a picture without us even calling him over.
We remember the selfie with Todd Frazier even though he was running late.
We remember T.J. Rivera chatting us up before we even had a chance to take a sip of coffee.
Those moments can’t be replicated and you can’t get them anywhere else beyond Spring Training.
As we wait for the players to arrive, we get geeky and talk about on base percentage and WAR (Wins Above Replacement). We listen in to those that are older and reminisce about the days of Ed Kranepool and Tom Seaver. With kudos to Instagram, we share in the knowledge of which players got married or had children during the off-season or just rescued a German Shephard. We share our own stories as to how we became New York Mets fans in the first place.
My family and I have been coming to Mets Spring Training for five years running. We regret that we didn’t start doing it sooner. It’s an epic escape from the cold of New Jersey every February. It helps us get through the winter. “If we can just survive until February, we’ll be okay” is a common refrain in our household.
We start scanning for the cheapest flights in November. We collectively shop for Mets garb because at no point in time during the trip can we not be decked out in full Mets wares. We buy official MLB balls on Black Friday and hit up eBay for cards for every single Mets player that we know that will be in camp.
A Spring Training vacation, not too unlike an actual practice, is rooted in routine. We don’t have to think and plan our days. They’re pretty much the same day in and day out. So while we may be on our feet for eight or nine hours straight, there is no mental stress. We just do and we just react.
After the players have arrived at First Data Field in Port St. Lucie in the morning and we’ve greeted them appropriately, we have time to head back to the hotel, scoff down breakfast, apply sun tan lotion, load up the backpack and then make it back to the park in time for when open-to-the-public practice begins at 9:30 a.m.
Once at practice, we all do our own thing.
My 16 year old son is focused on autographs.
He knows exactly where to go and when. He knows where the pitchers run through their cool-downs and knows their tendencies when it comes to how they interact or don’t interact with the fans. It’s a bit like gambling with the rush when your ball is grabbed and the disappointment when they pass you over. The highs and lows are part of the experience. His room is a Mets shrine and I look forward to his man cave in the future.
My wife is the purist. She finds the best seat in the house and soaks in the experience. She gets giddy with the sounds of the popping gloves. She appreciates the art form that is pitching. She takes note of who is showing more power and who is working on hitting to the opposite field. She observes coach and player interactions. She observes the wandering General Manager and who appears to be under the microscope.
My 13 year-old daughter revels in the experience. She has a ball in hand and seeks signatures. She’s a pro at scoring a selfie.
She also knows how to find her way in front of the camera. She’s been on the Kid’s Clubhouse show four years running. She likes her pretzels and Italian Ice. She makes friends with others with ease. She films herself throughout the day and makes her friends at home jealous.
I’m all about the photographs. I’m the guy with the fast clicking camera filming double plays and the pitching motion.
At six foot four, I get the overhead shots of Tim Tebow mania and Micheal Conforto signing for every last person. I catch the players in goofy stretches and playfully shoving each other. The exposure and closeness to the players is next to none. It will only happen in Spring Training. I easily forget about the day job and fantasize that I’m a professional photographer. That escape is intoxicating.
We all hit up the parking lot after practice and watch the players leave in their expensive vehicles. We wander over and take more pics if they stop. We listen in to others talk about their experiences from the day. We plan where we’re going for lunch (Duffy’s being the easy answer) so we can talk more baseball.
My son is a junior in high school and is looking to major in Sports Journalism. He is a good writer and is wickedly knowledgeable on all sports. We know all of the Mets writers by name and chat with them during elevator rides in our hotel. This year he was fortunate to chat with Anthony DiComo who covers the Mets for Major League Baseball (MLB).
A great dude who took the time out of his busy schedule to offer advice to my son. I’m forever indebted to him for that.
Yet another part of the Spring Training experience.
As we drove back to the airport this year I realized next year might be my son’s last trip to Spring Training for a period of time. He’ll be in college come 2021 and potentially won’t be able to leave school. With a tear in my eye I promised myself I’d find a way to get him to sneak away for a few days in February.
It means that much.
The memories are that powerful.
We’re a baseball and Mets family.